Should I Be With the Man I Want and Settle For a Life I Don’t?


Hey Evan, I am a grad student in my early 20’s. I have a job I love and have been in a relationship with my current boyfriend for over a year. He is truly a great man and is all I have ever wanted. We have a great connection, awesome chemistry, and share the same values. I am happier in this relationship than I ever have been. That being said I have a dilemma.

He is in the military and while he has never had to leave me for an extended period of time, inevitably, he will have to one day (anywhere from 3 months to one year). We have recently been discussing our future together and I have been reflecting and am beginning to worry. I have always imagined getting married one day and having children, which I could see myself doing with him, but never have I imagined having my significant other leave me for extended periods of time. The thought of being married and not having my spouse available to me to vent about my day, or have dinner with or share responsibilities with frustrates me. The life I see with him makes me question if that is the kind of life I want for myself.

While we are presently happy and content, I foresee problems arising from this issue, and thus being troublesome in our future. So my question to you Evan: Should I continue this relationship knowing our future together and having to be apart for extended periods of time will emotionally drain me and cause problems, Or should I break it off with the man of my dreams and be selfish and pursue someone who will be available 24/7 when it comes to marriage and children? I feel as if my only options are: Be with the man I want and settle for a life I don’t, or settle for someone else but have the life I want. I appreciate your time Evan! Look forward to your response! —Stella

Dear Stella,

I was on the phone yesterday with a client who was lamenting her available choices on Common story. I won’t bore you with it.

My client, an attractive, successful, likeable woman in her early 40’s, actually had good reason to lament. After all, in the past, she had gone out with senators and C-level executives from Fortune 500 companies. She is quality and she attracts quality.

You don’t get good qualities without getting the bad qualities that come with it.

But I was still left with a question for her: “What happened to the senator and the executives?” What I got back was some version of “Too busy, travels a lot, has no time for me, unable to commit, couldn’t give me what I needed.”

Got it.

And yet it never even occurred to her that in trying to find an equally impressive man, she would get the EXACT SAME RELATIONSHIP all over again.

I talk about this extensively in “Why He Disappeared”; you don’t get good qualities without getting the bad qualities that come with it.

And if a guy is a rock star, basketball player, CEO, actor, or some other high paid, high status, high charisma man, he will usually be a little more selfish, narcissistic, commitmentphobic, and emotionally and physically unavailable.

Look around. I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know, or anything that reading the New York Times and US Weekly couldn’t already reveal.

I know I’ve hijacked your question to make a broader point to a broader audience, but it bears great relevance to your situation.

Because it doesn’t matter if you’re dating the PERFECT man — a guy who is so whipped on you that he makes you French Toast every morning and goes down on you every night. If you only get to see him for three months out of the year, you will not have the kind of relationship that you crave.

This is a one-way ticket to Unhappyland.

But that’s the bargain that many women make — and later regret. It’s no coincidence that we read about the high divorce rate in Hollywood. I mean, really, was anyone shocked that Eva Longoria — who is on set at Desperate Housewives for eight months a year, divorced Tony Parker, a French basketball player who is ten years younger and travels from city to city eight months a year? Too much distance, too much temptation, too much narcissism, too little time together to keep the flame alive. Hell, I just saw “The Messenger” with Woody Harrelson, which depicts a soldier whose girlfriend fell in love with another man while he was on active duty in Iraq. Yes, it may be a movie, but it’s reflective of a greater reality.

Couples who don’t spend time together find that it’s hard to stay together. Hard to talk on the phone every night. Hard not to wish you had a conventional marriage. Hard not to think the grass may be greener in the backyard next door.

To bring it back to the question that any woman reading this might have… are you better off with this amazing man in a perpetually dissatisfying relationship, or are you better off with perhaps a “lesser” man in a far superior relationship.

Couples who don’t spend time together find that it’s hard to stay together.

One can do one’s own calculus, but I always use my fancy public policy degree to make decision trees for my clients who are in this predicament.

Simply put: calculate the value of the man, multiply it by the value of the relationship itself, and voila — you’ve got your answer.

A man who is a “10”…in a relationship that’s a “3”… nets you a 30.

A man who is a “7”… in a relationship that’s a “10”…nets you a 70.

Sounds to me like you’d be appreciably happier with a man who is also cute, kind, fun, and stable…but is around all the time to be a great husband and father.

You’re not wrong if you choose to go with your current guy.

Just don’t be surprised if one or both of you has trouble sustaining a relationship that is strained by the distance between you.

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  1. 1

    Great post Evan! Anyway this might be the first time I’ve ever commented but your articles and blog posts have increased my love&relationship knowledge. I’ve become a much better girlfriend now and I am able to appreciate my man even more.

    Regarding your calculus thingy, I am grateful to be with a man whom I’d give a 9, and I am so blessed to be in a relationship that I’d score a 9. So I’ve scored 81! Woohoo!

  2. 3

    I respectfully disagree.   I was raised by parents who faced this very dilemma during my childhood.   My dad was in the Army for 21 years and retired from active duty in 1981.   My parents celebrated their 52nd anniversary in December.   In the beginning of his military career, there were times when he had to be away from the family, but as he gained rank, we (the family) were able to accompany him to  all of his duty stations.   My experience was decidedly different from my mother’s, I will readily admit, but for me, the evidence that it is possible to “have it all” is clear.   Marriage takes sacrifice at times, but LOVE is worth it.   I wish I could have a relationship like my parents have….It IS possible.  

  3. 4

    Hmmm…. interesting…. when I read the question, Evan, I thought you would say that she should stay with the guy, as to expect someone who is perfect in *every* way (including being around 24/7) would be too much to ask for, and is the reason that you end up coaching lots of women in thier late 30’s/early 40’s (because they held out for ‘perfect’ too long)… so now I’m curious and thinking I’ve missed a meeting .

  4. 5

    We live in a much different day and age than the Greatest Generation did. Duty had a much less different and negative connotation than it does in this day and age.   I’m not saying that our poster is wrong to want what she wants, but I’m not entirely convinced that her BF is the sort that the congressmen and execs might be in the example.   While this obviously not true in all cases, serving one’s country as a soldier often means a desire to serve something greater than one’s self and while many military relationships fail, as Angela pointed out, many are often successful.   If the poster truly does not want this in her life – because military families sacrifice and God bless them for it – then she needs to let her guy go so he can find the woman who is willing to keep the home fires burning.   It’s a tough decision.   I’m not criticizing her for wanting and needing more, but she may have a difficult time finding a good guy who wows her like this one.   She’s got quite a dilemma on her hands.   I could say she should “do it for her country” but I don’t think she would appreciate my sense of humor.

    Evan, you have a degree in Public Policy?? I’m working on a Master’s in Public Administration.   That’s cool!!!  

  5. 6

    #3, I think you are missing the point.   Evan didn’t say that it was impossible for a military wife or husband to have a happy life with a spouse who is frequently away.

    But this letter writer already feels as if having a frequently absent spouse is not something she could deal with for a lifetime.   It’s really good that she gets that before she gets married.   We’re not talking about someone letting go of the dream of being married to a 6’2 man.  Or a  doctor.   This is about how much you need to be around your spouse (and that varies for everyone).
    I have a friend who is a happily married military wife  (mother of two AND an M.D.)  who has spent most of her now 10 year marriage living apart from her husband. But she grew up as a military brat and understood the lifestyle and found it to be a reasonable one.   She adores her husband and misses him like mad when he’s gone but she’s okay with it.   And she started out knowing it and being okay with it.  

    I know another couple where both are military, both are quite happy, but have taken turns with numerous deployments and three kids (for example, the husband had a newborn and a toddler by himself for a year while the wife was in Iraq).   In their case they also know that their life means frequent and long separations and they are also fine with it.  

    But I have  another friend (now ex-military) and his first marriage ended b/c during his absences and deployments, his wife cheated.    And perhaps it happened b/c in the end, being alone so much didn’t work for her.   So now he’s remarried but also  out of  the military, and for example, when he came to the grad school program where I met him, he made a point of only considering places where his then fiancee could finish her PhD work. I think he decided that he wasn’t going to try long distance/absences the second time around.

    There are plenty of careers that require a person to either work long hours, odd hours, travel frequently, or sometimes just be abroad often.   Some people can manage and others cannot.   And it’s better for those people to probably  cut their losses before they get married and realize that they cannot do it.

  6. 7

    “Be with the man I want and settle for a life I don’t, or settle for someone else but have the life I want.”
    This is a false dichotomy. You think there are only two possible outcomes, but life is often much more complex than that. Have you talked with your boyfriend about his long term aspirations in the military? Is he planning on making it a career, and if so, what is he hoping to work towards? Not everyone stays in the military for decades, but you seem to be basing your assumptions on the idea that he’s going to.
    In addition, if it is the case that he’s sticking with the military, why do you think that your only future option would be to “settle” for some other guy? Do you really think we only have one person in the world, one chance at love? That’s fairy tale stuff, and really is an easy way to feel miserable about the rest of your life if things don’t work out with the current boyfriend.  

  7. 8

    I think Evan’s decision tree has one serious flaw: it is static and doesnt allow to play with different   scenarios as they develop over time. Here’s a stock market analyst’s view:  a military guy can retire from the military or gain rank and take an administrative position, etc., and not have to travel all the time, which would propel his value back to 100. While the “average” guy may lose his job and have to move to a different city for a new position while she’s unable to join – which would drop his value to like 20. So, if she stays with her current guy her risk is to the upside, if she goes with a lower wuality guy her risk is to the downside. Ergo, it is obvious she has to stay with the current guy. For those enthusiasts ot there, this calculation has to be probability-weighted to make more sense.

    Personally, I would rather wait 3 months a year for a guy who  I am in love with and who’s a “10”, than spend 100% of my time  with a guy who’s a “7”. Man, that’s just depressing.

  8. 9
    Silly Girl

    I suggest she take a longer term look at this. Since she is in her mid 20’s, his choice of a military career is (hopefully!) only a portion of their married life. There will be times in his military career when he is not deployed, and then there is the entire second career opportunity when he retires. And don’t forget the life together after final and full retirement!

    Let me paraphrase one of my favorite books “Good to Great”. Although it is a business  book, there is  one tenet that is very applicable here. Consider “First who, then what”. The “what” of your married life is unpredictable despite the best of plans,  but the  right “who” will make the “what” worthwhile.  


  9. 10

    A couple of points:
    1) How long does the boyfriend intend to stay in the military?   Does he know about his girlfriend’s feelings on the issue?   My husband had been in the military but his then-serious-girlfriend knew she didn’t want that lifestyle, so he ended up leaving the military for her.   Stella’s boyfriend might be willing to do the same, or does not intend to stay in the military long-term anyway.
    2) How would she feel about moving a lot?   Many military families can remain together, but are forced to move around a great deal.   Is this an option that she would consider?   She’d get her 10 man all of the time, but she’d have to physically uproot often in order to get it.
    But if being a military wife is not in the cards for Stella, it’s also possible that she could find another great guy who would be home more, as Nathan (#7) wrote.

  10. 11
    Karl R

    Nia said: (#4)
    “I thought you would say that she should stay with the guy, as to expect someone who is perfect in *every* way (including being around 24/7) would be too much to ask for,”

    Have you ever had a job that you hated, or have you ever been in a long-term situation that made you miserable? Not only does it suck the joy out of your life, but it also puts a strain on your relationships.

    DatingMilitary (#2) makes a valid point. Stella should educate herself about what being married to a military man is really like. But after educating herself, she may  still feel  that it’s not a life that she’d be happy with.

    Having a life that makes you miserable is worse than dealing with the normal imperfections that one finds in a partner.

  11. 12

    Do you have to make a decision right now? Why not keep going as you have been and see how you actually feel about things when does have to go away for an extended period.

    You may find it’s too hard on you, or you may find you deal with it just fine. I think your willingness to relinquish a good relationship for a future you think might be disagreeable for you says something. Maybe you aren’t ready for a permanent commitment. Or maybe you aren’t as into this man as you say.

  12. 13

    @A-L, #10 — exactly my question.   Is the man career military?   Also, would he be deployed in a combat position, or a less-dangerous type of assignment?   I’ve always known I couldn’t be married to a cop, because I’m a worrier.   It would’ve been good to have some additional details.   Perhaps the poster doesn’t have them, and she’s worrying about something that will never come to pass (say if the boyfriend intends to leave the military or put in for a Stateside assignment were they to get married).   Sounds like they haven’t sat down together and had any serious discussions yet.
    Playing devil’s advocate — what happens in an established marriage when one partner or another gets a career opportunity that necessitates more travel, or living part-time in another city for a time?   Do we dump a great spouse because of the (relatively) short-term inconvenience?   I suppose some selfish people would, but I sure wouldn’t.   Life is long, and ideally so is a marriage.   We don’t get to know what’s in store for us, and a lot of marriage is compromise and acceptance — learning to make lemonade out of lemons.   If a person can’t accept that, and needs to have a certain situation in place always in order to be happy, they’re better off not marrying anyone.

  13. 14
    Ms Maz

    Wow, did this post come at the right time for me! I’m sort of having the same issue myself, except that my  fiance is a touring musician who is gone for months at a time, and works with a band that is 700 miles away from our hometown, on top of that. So, basically, any time they have a show or go on tour or  need to record or make an appearance, he’s gotta leave for x amount of weeks or months.

    I’ve always said that I’m not someone who can handle long distance relationships, but this time, I was willing to try it and be supportive of his dream. It’s less than ideal, but so far, it’s been okay. It’s not nearly as terrible as I thought it would be, as he is making his best attempts to stay in contact with me. I have to admit, though, when  he’s been gone for months at a time and it can wear  on you — especially when it seems like everyone you know is coupled up and having summer fun, I’m the lonely solo gal spending summer alone (I know, it sounds petty and needy, but I swear, I’m not). It’s kind of disappointing, but the times he is home, I feel like we are much stronger as a couple and value each other more because it is a precious time together.

    If nothing else, maybe give it a shot and if it doesn’t work, than so be it, but at least you’ll have tried. I really didn’t think I could handle it and almost called it quits before even seeing how it would be.  I never, ever  believed myself the type of girl capable of handling this kind of relationship (believe me, it takes some getting used to and I still struggle sometimes), but if things are as good as they seem based on the LW’s post, it may turn out fine. You never can tell unless you try.

    Despite the ups and downs and the occasional bouts of disappointment/wishing-you-were-here, I think our relationship has gotten much stronger. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about yourself and to do all of the things you want to do that you may not be able to do, otherwise, while still maintaining that very special bond with another person.

    Ultimately, it is the LW’s decision. It’s definitely not an easy road, and if it doesn’t make you happy, than you shouldn’t choose that path.

  14. 15

    I am wondering whether he was in the military when they first met. If yes, then I’d imagine that he shared with her his future career responsibilities fairly early on. Even if he did though, I know that she may not have been in the same place as she is right now, considering possible marriage and children; thus, her just now starting to ponder his lifestyle and possible deployments, and its affect on her and them is understandable, if not a bit short-sighted.
    I think she already knows her answer, but naturally, her feelings for him are causing her to struggle. Her thought about whether she should settle for someone else, in order to have the life she wants is naive. How many of us have had this kind of mindset, and not even felt we were settling, only to have life show us otherwise? 😉 Settling will not necessarily give her the life she wants. Stacy’s (#8) message is really good because she points out, through her example, the realities of life that often happen. I find this idea of absolute percentages a bit ridiculous, and it cannot be applied in black and white fashion because it’s all variable.
    The writer seems more concerned with herself than with them, and every person deserves a partner who will accept them for who they are and support them every step of the way. A man loves knowing his wife has his back. It’s you and me against the world. If she feels that she cannot do this, then he’s not the right one for her, nor she for him.
    I was married for about 1.5 years when my former husband decided that he wanted to join the military. I fully supported his choice, even though I knew just how devastatingly hard it would be for us emotionally with separations that lasted for months. We were inseparable. Waiting for weeks to get that first letter home was so difficult. I know how it feels to sacrifice on behalf of a spouse who’s in the military, and thankfully, he never faced war. The good byes can be brutal, and you do have to be strong and able to take care of yourself on numerous levels. I think that today’s technology helps soothe the separations, at least a teeny bit because of the many ways to reach out to each other.
    If the relationship is strong and both partners are committed to the greater good, then it can work.

    1. 15.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Hey, Diana, why is your military man your “former husband”? Anything to do with his career? Or just a coincidence?

  15. 16

    Hey Evan ~ actually, the two are not connected. We went on to be married for close to another 20 years before he became a “former.” And he didn’t retire from the military. No ~ the answer to the question of why we’re now “formers” is like night and day from way back then, when despite our military separations, we were like white on rice with each other, as they say. 🙂

  16. 17

    I agree with Evan, I think it is a ticket to unhappy land if you need that everyday kind of attention. I am the same way, there is no way I could have married a man in the military because  I get lonely…and that would lead to a possibility of me not keeping my vows and remaining faithful after sometime if my husband is gone all the time so thats something I wouldn’t dare put my self into. I don’t think it is selfish of you to want someone who is there, because both people in a relationship should be equally happy, and satisfied. there are some factors to consider like how long he will be active for, and the dreaded  worst case scenarios….in my opinion it’s hard to be in that kind of relationship whole heartedly for anyone. I do believe that if you continued dating you would find someone just as good for you or better, but you never know unless you try. If you settle for a life you are not happy with, (especially all to go through  60% of the time alone)  you will eventually be unhappy with the man you chose to settle with. You are young and still have a lot of time to meet new people. I dont think you should limit yourself just yet with these kind of doubts, keep your options open.

  17. 18

    People sometimes ask: “should you follow your heart or your head?”The best advice I ever heard was : “Listen to your heart to find out what you really want, then use your head to work out the best way to achieve it.”. It seems to me this girl is in love with her military man – that’s where her heart lies right now. Now she has to use her head to work out the details – how they can create a life together and spend time together . If you are with a man you love and he is away at times, you may be unhappy some of the time. If you are with a man who is around a lot but you’re not in love with him, you’ll be unhappy ALL of the time!
      Finding love is a rare and precious thing. Nourish it in all the creative and wonderful ways you can think of.

  18. 19

    To the original letter writer: have you told him how you felt?

  19. 20

    Some couples can be without their partner for lengths of time, and some can’t.     This lady is in her 20’s, still has all of her hormones….she may need a partner around her 24/7.  

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